If a teacher receives a gift that is worth $50 or more, it must be declared to the Ministry of Education (MOE). If the gift is worth less than $50, it must be declared to the school. This procedure, according to the principal of Nanyang Primary School, is in accordance with the “Code of Professional Conduct for Educators” released this year. The new code of conduct has incorporated the Civil Service Instruction manuals and the MOE’s internal guidelines that were previously used by teachers.
In advance of Teachers’ Day, Lian He Zao Bao carried this story last week (here), and focused on this particular guideline on the giving of presents.
Why the pedantry and administrative bureaucracy, some might ask? Parents and students should have the common sense to know the right things to give, and most educators will not hesitate to refuse items if there are too expensive or inappropriately ostentatious. In this sense, these codified reminders do seem redundant. Some therefore argue that these recommendations are symptomatic of the civil service, which reacts disproportionately to isolated transgressions, and takes directives ludicrously to the extremes.
Sure, this does not apply to handmade presents or items given to teachers who are retiring or moving to a new institution or appointment, but one can imagine how ridiculous an actual declaration list will look like (especially if an educator is genuinely popular): a $35 cake that was shared by the class, a $20 bouquet of flowers from the project team he or she mentored, a $15 notebook, a $10 thank-you meal at the school cafeteria, a nice $8 card of gratitude, a $5 set of red pens or post-its…
Yet, this move is reflective of a cautious mind-set. Err on the side of caution, in other words.
After all, the strict measures are in place to protect the teachers, and the code of conduct was developed after focus group discussions with principals and teachers. Last year, the teaching profession was hit by a series of unfortunate scandals, some of which involved the exchange of gifts and presents (with or without romantic overtones). One might again point to the contention that teachers can exercise the due diligence and discretion, but the MOE has a duty to stand by its employees.
Perhaps beyond the quibble over these thickets of red tape, this code of conduct would serve as a good reminder that the value of a present – or, for that matter, the display of one’s gratitude and appreciation – is never quantified in monetary terms. Parents of young schoolchildren (those in the primary schools, for instance) should be cognisant of this too, and teach the young ones that there is no need to shower one’s mentors and educators with gifts. Most teachers would agree that the most meaningful gifts are those that come from the heart. And as clichéd as it might be, it really is the thought that counts.
And of course, a happy (belated) Teachers’ Day!